This January, our newly appointed Governor and a cast of new Senators and Representatives will descend on Olympia into a sea of policy and budget challenges. Before they get too distracted, let’s make sure they take note and plan for the silver tsunami on the horizon.
Today, 12 percent of Washingtonians are 65 plus. By 2030 that will grow to nearly 20 percent or one out of every five people in our state. Our society is going to look a lot different in the future and state lawmakers need to start preparing for that changed reality today.
The “longevity bonus” is an incredible opportunity. People can now expect to live 20 to 30 years beyond the traditional retirement age of 65. It’s also a challenge –our growing aging population is and will continue to put pressure on state funded services and infrastructure.
The question state lawmakers need to ask themselves is: what can we do now to transform our society so that it supports healthy aging and independence for the future? There are many opportunities in the 2013 session to get on the right track to an age friendly future.
The first step is focus. Governor-elect Inslee has pledged that he will host an Aging Summit within the first six months of his administration. Let’s hold him to that and urge lawmakers in the House and the Senate to form Aging Committees so that they can properly oversee and manage aging issues across policy sectors.
The second step is action. Here are specific policies and budget priorities that lawmakers should embrace in 2013:
- To expand access to health care for older adults, lawmakers should expand Medicaid and get the new Health Insurance Exchange ready to begin coverage by January 2014.
- To support people with disabilities, lawmakers should maintain and improve funding for our best-in-the-nation long term care system.
- To protect the most vulnerable, lawmakers should protect the rights of people in institutional settings and demand a more effective response to incidences of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.
- To help people prepare for retirement, lawmakers should protect the integrity of state pension plans, encourage private savings and help older people who want to stay in their jobs or go back to work.
- To help people age in place, legislators should prioritize development of housing that is built with accessibility features, support the rights of people living in mobile homes and prevent more foreclosures.
- To encourage independence, lawmakers should expand public transportation and special needs services and support pedestrian safety.
The third (and arguably most critical) step is funding. Funding changes that help us prepare for the growing elder population of today and tomorrow cannot come at the expense of funding for the education of future generations, and vice versa. That means biting the bullet, letting go of the campaign rhetoric and coming together across party lines to take a new look at our outdated, unfair and inadequate tax system.
For more detailed information, download a full copy of AARP’s “ 2013 Washington State Aging Agenda”. The Aging Agenda outlines age-friendly state policy and funding priorities in the areas of health care, long-term services and supports, protections for vulnerable adults, financial security, housing and transportation.